Dr Vukosi Marivate

Senior data scientist, CSIR

Vukosi Marivate is a senior data scientist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and has a keen interest in the use of data and machine learning algorithms to solve societal and public challenges. He leads a CSIR Data Science team that focuses on creating and using machine learning and artificial intelligence to extract insights from data.

“I became interested in computers after an afternoon visit to the Morekolodi Primary School computer lab, in Mmakau village,” says Marivate. “In later years, I noted the use of computers at my parents’ medical practice to manage patient data and do administrative tasks, but it was through interactions with one of my uncles, an electrical engineer who worked in research using computers for a large diamond company, that I learnt that they could be programmed to do specific tasks. This gave me an appreciation that there is more to computers than just document creation, games or data input, but that data and algorithms can be used to solve challenges.”

He completed his BSc and MSc (focused on machine learning) at Wits, and obtained a PhD in computer science at Rutgers University in New Jersey, US as a Fulbright science and technology scholar.

As a data scientist, Marivate is interested in how one can approach challenges using data and modelling techniques, and has been exploring the use of data science to solve problems facing South African society.

“There are opportunities to bring in multiple stakeholders and data-driven decision-making to improve people’s lives through data analysis and predictive analytics,” he explains. “With a wider data science team, we have begun to work with municipalities, government departments and other scientists to develop analytic and predictive systems that can be used by decision-makers. I have worked on problems including predictive policing, rapid strategic document analysis, text analysis, public safety and crime incident detection on social media and municipal information systems.

“I get excited when I am able to work with passionate individuals from industry and to look into problems that might initially look insurmountable, but through persistence and hard work we can make a contribution both to science and society,” he says.

Marivate is committed to developing new talent in his field, and supervises MSc and PhD students and interns.

“This has meant unearthing talent from students coming from backgrounds where it is hard to learn computing. All the students need is guidance and resources to reach their full potential,” he says.

— Kerry Haggard

Twitter: @vukosi